Bitzer's Rhetorical Model

“Penguin responses to climate change in the Southern Ocean” by Jaume Forcada and Philip N - Bitzer's Rhetorical Model introduction. Trathan (2009) was a study conducted to analyze and predict the migrating patterns of different species of penguins due to changes in climate. (p. 1618) Also, Forcada and Trathan investigate whether or not certain species of penguins possess phenotypic plasticity (the ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to changes in the environment) (p. 1618). In order to properly conduct a textual analysis of this article, Lloyd Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation” will be consulted.

This rhetorical model consists of three elements: 1) Exigency, the factor which creates the need for the rhetoric, 2) Audience, the element receiving the rhetoric and 3) Constraints, the factors which inhibit the audience from absorbing the message of the article. By examining the overall quality of Forcada and Trathan’s rhetoric, one may conclude that the article is successful in validating that penguins are affected by climate changes only in certain regions and/or habitats. Forcada and Trathan accomplish this task of validation through their effective use of technical jargon, applied data, and authoritative research.

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Throughout this article, Forcada and Trathan (F & T) consistently make it clear that not only does this issue present the ways in which penguins are affected by the climate change, but also the implications these effects have on the environment and the life that surrounds them. The article states that when faced with the challenge of climate change, “the paleoecological record suggests that penguins are more likely to respond by dispersal rather than adaptation” (Forcada & Trathan, 2009, p. 618) F & T also emphatically underline the repercussions made by the dispersal and/or phenotypic adjustments made by the penguins. The article uses evidence, data, and trends in order to emphasize the purpose for which their research is being conducted. By using this data, rather than mere speculation, the authors provide a substantial basis for the importance or necessity of the study. Many times, scientists tend to merely “spew” data and facts about their research without mentioning once why the study is important in the first place, and the target audience may view the research as irrelevant and extraneous.

In effect, F&T seem to aim their rhetoric at a very specific group of scientists who understand the exigency of this particular situation. The scientists are also a group of people who are sufficiently knowledgeable of the topic to the degree where there is a plausible chance of the issue at hand being altered by these people. The authors accomplish this by their deliberate use of scientific jargon and technical language throughout the article. F & T (2009) refer to the penguins as a “dominant component of the avian biomass” (p. 1618), talk of their phenological response (p. 625), and how the response of penguins is most often its “food web shifts” (p. 1621). This kind of insight may drive the audience to actually become “metaphors for change”. This is due to a scientific audience that holds similar values and interests as the authors of this article. Since being given the necessary knowledge and data, the audience now has an opportunity: they can either perform further research that validates the conclusions of F&T, or they can take it a step further and actually take action to bring the dispersal and food web shifts of the penguins to an end.

F&T (2009) also point out that “The contraction of ice shelves and changes in sea-ice condition can increase the competition between penguins and other predators as they deplete ice krill and switch to silver fish” (p. 1623). This is an example of a very specific piece of information that, when looked at on the surface, may seem irrelevant, but when looked at closer, it is something that only a select few are able to see the significance of. This information may be of concern to fishermen or animals that may depend on these two sea creatures for survival.

Although the authors of this article regularly use a multitude of sources, data, and statistics to support their hypothesis, there are several (not all) which seem to be overly used and randomly cited. This may serve as a constraint to the audience because if the information presented does not seem to be entirely relevant, it may be a painless assumption for the audience that the issue at hand is not an incredibly urgent one, but instead, a rhetoric discoursed just for the sake of rhetoric.

Also, the overwhelming wealth of information shown may serve as a distraction from the simple fact the rhetoric is trying to convey: penguins are affected by climate change; in result, penguins affect the environment. The information does not, however, prove to be faulty, but each piece of data seems to be calculated accurately. For example, a table is provided that names each species of penguin, the threats against them, and their resulting response to that threat. This makes it very clear whether each species has the ability to adapt, or if the climate change has just caused them to disperse.

Also, each piece of data is affiliated with a source, which increases the audience’s opinion of the writer’s character. Another aspect of the research that does seem to constrain the author’s point of view, however, is the fact that no actual experiment was conducted by F & T. While this study was extensively researched, and countless data and statistics were provided to support this research, the fact that F&T does not have a first person advantage reveals the possibility that the authors may merely be adept in research, not necessarily in this field.

Out of thirteen pages of the article, nearly five of them consist of references to the sources they have used. This detail does not, however, imply that the research may not be correct, only that the authors themselves may not be a credible source for that information. As a whole, this article appears to have accomplished its goal. It is presented in a fashion that effectively communicates the purpose to an appropriate audience. This is achieved with minimum constraints because of the thorough research and careful descriptions used by F&T.

In order to correct the constraints the message does have, F&T should start off by actually doing their own experiments. They would have a much more first-hand experience, which is naturally would give them more credibility on the subject. While copious amounts of data and statistics are not a bad thing, this data would be much more effective if coming straight from the study itself rather than outside sources. Otherwise, the report becomes a regurgitation of everything that they have researched instead of observable fact.

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